Perhaps it was a little ambitious to take three books on my recent European vacation with my family, a little ambitious to think I would actually have time to read while visiting Paris with my toddler and wife.
On past trips, overnight flights began with dinner and a few drinks then a bit of reading or channel surfing before dozing off for a few hours before arrival. Of course not this time – occupying a two-year old while maintaining a moderate noise volume for six-plus hours is a full-time job. And with the five-hour time difference, there was no way bedtime over the course of our visit would go smoothly.
Yet as is often the case, I was proven completely wrong: both flights and every night save one were surprisingly uneventful, even pleasant. I was able to imbibe and read much more than I had thought possible (in other words, more than none). I finished two books over the eight days in Paris: Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet and Scott Fitzgerald’s On Booze. Reading these books – especially while traveling with my family – provoked a bit of introspection into my own life since first visiting Paris in 2002.
First, traveling with a young child, more importantly one eager to assert their burgeoning independence, is far different from traveling with oneself or another adult. Everything takes more time, which is both good and bad: bad because daily tasks are dreadfully inefficient and frustratingly slow; good because you are forced to slow down, compelled to enjoy your surroundings, to relax, and refresh. Which, for a high-strung, tightly wound person like me is very necessary.
Secondly, you’re guaranteed imperfection when traveling with kids: they will spill drinks; defiantly stand on the seats of moving trains; and distract you enough so as to become lost. Oftentimes things don’t go as planned and that’s ok. It has to be ok, a fact that dawns on all fathers eventually. Fitzgerald too learned this while traveling in Paris with his own family: “[At] the Deux Mondes in Paris…we bathed the daughter in the bidet by mistake and she drank the gin fizz thinking it was lemonade and ruined the luncheon table next day.” Sometimes your kid gets sick on the lunch table, or in my case, vomits in your bed for no apparent reason. These things happen.
The week’s experiences drove home the differences between my two visits to Paris, the changes in my life between then and now. Here too, Fitzgerald’s words neatly reflect my own thoughts, albeit in far better prose: “Life, ten years ago, was a largely personal matter. I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to ‘succeed’—and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future.”
A decade ago, where did I think my life would be? Did I make perfect decisions based on absolute knowledge in every circumstance? Of course not. Life can only be described as making the best of, even enjoying imperfect situations. You do the best with the incomplete, the inefficient, and the exhaustive. And you focus on what you’ve done right: marry the right woman; raise your child well; and make your parents proud.
Please visit the Recommended Reading page for Fitzgerald’s On Booze, as well as other books I’ve enjoyed.